Deadline passes for mining moratorium

The Methow Headwaters.

WINTHROP – The Dec. 30 deadline for finalizing a 20-year moratorium on mining in the Methow Headwaters has come and gone with no action by the U.S. Department of Interior.

Methow Headwaters Campaign and supporters have expressed their dismay over the department’s failure to act prior to year’s end on the proposed mineral withdrawal for 340,079 acres of land in the Methow Valley’s headwaters.

“Last month more than 400 area residents turned out for a community meeting with the Bureau of Land Management to endorse making these critical lands off-limits to large-scale mining,” said Maggie Coon of the headwaters campaign. “This is vitally important to our community, and we will keep working to protect the headwaters.

“That the Department of Interior has not acted on the withdrawal means we will also redouble our effort to seek protection through legislation.”

The department is among those affected by a government shutdown that began in late December.

“I am disappointed the Department of Interior did not complete its work to finalize a 20-year moratorium on mining in the Methow Headwaters by the Dec. 30th deadline,” said U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-4th District. “This proposal was approved by the U.S. Forest Service and is overwhelmingly supported by constituents across north central Washington.

“As we enter a new year and a new Congress, I am determined to pursue the options available — including legislative routes — to push this effort across the finish line and protect the Methow Headwaters.”

A bill, the Methow Headwaters Protection Act has been pending in Congress. It was introduced by Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, both D-Wash., in 2016 and again in 2017.

The Methow Headwaters Campaign vowed to continue efforts to work with legislative champions to seek protection in the new Congress, noting its appreciation of the significant ongoing support of Cantwell and Murray.

“The Methow community is unified in the need for the withdrawal to protect our waters, wildlife, communities and local economy,” said Coon. “We are very disappointed that the two-year segregation period has concluded without action. It is particularly frustrating, given the hard work that has been undertaken by citizens and land managers.”

She said her group recognizes the government shutdown has affected many agencies, but wants the department’s leadership to finalize the withdrawal “as soon as possible to help support the future of our communities, wildlife and economy.”

New claims, exploration and mine development in the Methow headwaters were suspended through a process known as “segregation,” for two years in December 2016 by order of the then-secretary of interior. Since then, an assessment of the 20-year mineral withdrawal has been ongoing.

The U.S. Forest Service completed an environmental assessment of the withdrawal in September 2018 and supported the 20-year withdrawal.

The withdrawal area includes potential copper deposits in the headwaters, and the habitat and migration corridors that would be affected by mining in the area.

A 2014 proposal to explore developing a copper mine in the headwaters raised community concerns, resulting in the launch of the Methow Headwaters Campaign in 2016.

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